AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2021-12

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March 21, 2021 ~ Bow, NH

Right to Work Action Needed.   The top story this week is the impending hearing in the House Labor Committee on SB 61, the so-called “right to work” bill.  The hearing is scheduled for the morning of March 25, and we urge you to register your opposition to this scheme to reduce the compensation and benefits of all workers in NH by registering at this link no later than 8am on Thursday, March 25 Register your opposition to SB 61 here.   It is a quick and easy form to complete. Go to the date, March 25th, Select House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services, 10:00 am, SB 61. Drop down menu for “I am a member of the public” and “representing myself”. Then you can click “I oppose this bill”. Click “Continue”. Fill in your first name, last name, phone number, and email address, and click "Continue."  Check the box next to "By clicking this checkbox, you agree that the information you have provided is truthful to the best of your knowledge."  Click "Continue."

Remember, so-called “right to work” does not provide a job to anyone.  Instead, it weakens organized labor, allowing individuals in a unionized workplace to garner the benefits and protections of a contract without paying a single cent to the union to help enforce and uphold that very contract.  In sum, it encourages free-loading, and by weakening labor unions, weakens the most powerful force for improving wages and benefits for all working people in NH.  A rising tide lifts all boats, and history shows that in “right to work” states, the tide recedes and so do the living standards of working families.  Don’t let this come into New Hampshire!  Don’t be fooled by rhetoric!  No one can be required to join a union!  Agency fees are less than union dues and simply help contribute to the cost of negotiating and maintaining a contract.  These are fees freely agreed upon by the union AND the employer.  Passing right to work interferes with the right to freely negotiate and contract in the private sector, and will in the long run, indirectly harm thousands of New Hampshire families.

Senate Action on SB 130- School Vouchers-Possible Pathways.   The major news this past week was passage by the NH Senate of SB 130, the bill to establish “education savings accounts” (i. e., vouchers) to transfer State education funds away from public schools and into the pockets of parents who home-school or send their children to private schools.  The vote, unsurprisingly, was strictly along party lines:  14 Republicans voting for SB130 and all 10 Democrats voting against SB130. 

Republican leadership then immediately voted to table SB130, rather than sending it on to the Senate Finance Committee where the financial impact would be fully explicated.  Hearings held by the Senate Finance Committee would undoubtedly make two things clear.  First, there is the huge immediate impact of SB 130 (some $60-70 million in the first year) as current home-schoolers and private school families cash in on the windfall of approximately $4600 in free State funds per student.  Second, hearings would expose the costs of lost State aid on individual school districts once the short-lived and minimal “phase-out” grants expire in two years, leaving local property taxpayers with higher tax bills while sending their public money to those who choose home-schooling or private schools.

It is obvious that the supporters of SB 130, the largest and least-restricted voucher program ever implemented in the United States, want to avoid negative but truthful publicity regarding the impact upon taxpayers.  So here is where it gets interesting.  If you are willing to be patient and read on, we can outline some of the future pathways SB 130 might take in an effort to avoid any open hearings on the finances of vouchers in the Senate and especially, in the House.

Pathway #1:  By passing SB130 as a “policy bill” and then tabling prior to doing the financial analysis and hearings, the Senate can use the State budget as the future vehicle.  The NH House will presumably pass a State budget in early April and send it to the Senate.  There, the Senate can amend the budget and insert into it funding and the required policy changes and send it back to the House for final approval.  The beauty of this approach is that it minimizes public hearings on the finances of SB 130 and totally avoids any hearings in the NH House where the House either would accept the amended budget or more likely, go to a committee of conference in June.  In a committee of conference, much wheeling and dealing occurs, a lot of it out of public view, and the final product agreed upon by the House and Senate can no longer be amended, only voted YES or NO.  Failing to pass a State budget would be hugely embarrassing for the Republican majorities, so passage is likely of the State budget, even one with an expensive voucher program contained within it.  And it avoids those messy and embarrassing hearings about the finances!

Pathway #2:  As noted in Pathway #1, the funding for the voucher program would be inserted by the Senate into the proposed State budget, allowing it to be swallowed up amongst the multitude of funding issues that always accompany the biennial budget.  The policy issues (i. e. the language of SB 130) would then be attached to a bill passed by the House and sent to the Senate, where under Senate rules the bill can be amended on the floor, attaching SB 130 to it.  Since the Senate permits non-germane amendments, the House bill serving as a vehicle for amendment could be anything—a bill regarding the environment, a bill regarding banking, a bill concerning driver’s education.  Anything, just so long as it has nothing to do with education.  Why?  Because once amended by adding SB 130 and then passing it in the Senate, it goes back to the House and possibly back to the committee from which the original House bill originated.  Republican leaders will choose the House bill carefully, to ensure that after it is amended to include SB130 (think of it as being infected and now becoming a “carrier”) it will go back to its committee of origin, a friendly committee, a committee that is NOT Education, and which has no expertise on the subject of vouchers at all.  That committee can then simply send the amended bill to the House floor for a final vote.  Result—no hearings ever held on the finances of SB 130, and the policy is voted up or down without any further policy hearings in the House at all.

So, what is likely to happen is the use of parliamentary procedures and rules to avoid as much as possible any open or direct hearings regarding the financial impact and costs of education vouchers.  Is it legal and legitimate under parliamentary rules?  Yes.  Is it the way a major financial and policy shift should occur?  No.  Remember, this will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, taking public funds from public schools and placing the money in the pockets of parents who of their own volition choose to send students to private school or to home-school.  And all of this with to happen with virtually no oversight or accountability, whether it be academic or financial.  Talk about a giveaway!

Other bills of interest.  There are two additional bills of interest previously mentioned in this Bulletin—HB 206, providing for public-sector bargaining and negotiations to occur in public, and HB 544, prohibiting so-called “divisive concepts” from being taught or discussed in any entity receiving any State funding.  HB 206 is unnecessary, since the public already have multiple opportunities to work with their school board or selectmen to shape collective bargaining negotiations.  The public also has the right to vote on the cost items resulting from those negotiations, so HB 206 does not solve any existing problem.  As for HB 544, quite frankly it is an attempt to stifle free speech and in schools (especially in higher education) to prevent discussions involving race, gender, or class, or anything deemed critical of the mythic story of American perfection. It is an embarrassment, and the sooner it is voted down, the better. 

The weather is warming, the snow is disappearing, and it is time to start thinking of taking down the bird-feeders.  Optimism and sensibility is beginning to return to New Hampshire—let’s hope it carries over into the NH legislature.

#PublicDollarsForPublicSchools

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NH Retirement Security Coalition   The NHRSC will be tracking all bills related to the NH Retirement System and continuing advocacy for our members.  You can find the legislation tracker following retirement bills by clicking on the following link NHRSC UPDATES.

AFT-NH is a member of the NH Retirement Security Coalition (NHRSC).

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